Lecture by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad
Surat Al-Fatiha Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX| Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII
All of the swearing is to mention this. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) continues to say, “And indeed lost is the one who did not take care of their soul” (Qur’an, 91:10).
Jacques Barzun has a book entitled From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. You need to read this book, especially if you’re involved in da’wah (calling to Islam). It’s a really big book so get it in the summertime or when you’re not taking classes. In the book, Barzun talks about how since the 16th century the Western mind (he’s talking in the Western historical framework) has lost contact with purifying the soul. For example, look at campus newspapers. What are the major ads you find in campus newspapers?
Audience: Food. Clothes. Parties. Furniture.
Yes. Have you ever seen an article entitled, “Your Soul. You need to fix your soul.” We laugh because it would be bizarre, but look at the importance of it. It’s so important that Allah (swt) swore seven or nine times to emphasize tazkiyatul nafs (purification of the soul).
Also let us look at the sunnah (practice and words) of the Prophet ﷺ in the hadith (record of the actions or sayings of the Prophet ﷺ) which I alluded to earlier when he said, “Indeed in the body there’s a piece of flesh. If it’s sound the whole body is sound. If it’s corrupted the whole body is corrupted. It is the heart.”
Now what does this have to do with Surat al-Fatiha? Allah (swt) said, “Alhamdullilah. All praise and thanks are only due to Allah…” And who is Allah? He is rabil alameen (Lord of the Worlds). Rabb doesn’t just mean Lord. Rabb means Cherisher, Sustainer, Maintainer, Caretaker, Lord, and everything. Allah (swt) gave you clothes. Allah (swt) gave you elements to take from the world and make things. Allah (swt) even sent some of those elements from outter space to this earth so that they could be used by us. Subhan Allah (glory be to Allah), this is a Caretaker. Allah (swt) gave you your eyes, your hearing, intellect and the ability to communicate. Allah (swt) gave you everything you need materially as Rabb. And also, as Rabb, He’s going to give you everything you need spiritually.
So the first aspect of tafsir (intrepretation of) Surat al-Fatiha we take about spiritually is that everything the soul needs is found in the shariah (Islamic principles) to guide the soul to what’s right and show it what’s wrong (Qur’an 91:8). Can you find anything in creation that Allah (swt) didn’t make? You cannot. Can you find anything that’s going to benefit your heart or your soul that didn’t come from Allah (swt)? No. That’s why Sheikh Abdul Qadir Al-Jaylani said, “Our tareeqah (way, or method; lit. path) is fixed on the Book and the Sunnah.” That’s all we need.
Now if you go to the Qur’an you find that the number one reason why peoples’ souls were corrupted is very clear. Go to Surat al-Baqarah. The ‘ulema (scholars) said there are one thousand issues of halal (permissible) and haraam (impermissible) just in Surat al-Baqarah. One thousand pieces of wisdom in Surat al-Baqarah. One time a group of people came to the Prophet ﷺ and he was going to choose a leader. There was a young man among them. The Prophet ﷺ asked them, “What did you memorize from the Qur’an?” Subhan Allah, when the Prophet ﷺ chose a leader it wasn’t because the leader was a syed, or from MQM, or from People’s Party, or Punjabi, Sindhi or Oklahomi. No.
The Prophet ﷺ asked,“Have you memorized anything from the Qur’an?”
The people in the group began to answer, and the young man said, “I memorized Surat al-Baqarah.”
The Prophet ﷺ asked, “Really? You have [memorized] Baqarah?”
The young man replied, “Yes.”
And the Prophet ﷺ said, “This is your leader.”
He was a young man, and the Prophet ﷺ made him a leader.
So if we go to Surat al-Baqarah we find right before the end of the first hizb (half a juz, and the Qur’an is split into 30 juz) Allah (swt) gives us the story of the people of Moses radi Allahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with him). Moses (ra) came to them and said they should slaughter a cow. They began to ask, “What kind of cow is it? What color is it?” and so forth (Qur’an 2:67-73). We are very similar now, right? If we want to fast or declare Eid we ask, “What kind of moon is it? What color is it? What color should it be?” There are some striking similarities there of how we have complicated everything in Islam. So then Musa (Moses) answered all the questions and they slaughtered the cow even though they didn’t really want to. Then Allah (swt) mentions that they turned away from the Book and the Messenger, and then their “… hearts became hardened after that, being like stones or even harder…” (Qur’an 2:74).
So we find in Surat al-Fatiha that the first thing is that if we want to achieve a sound tazkiyyah (purification) we have to stick to the shariah (Islamic principles). We don’t have to call a fortune teller to get tazkiyyatul nafs. We find that it’s fixed in the Book and the Sunnah. That’s why Junayd Al Baghdadi, one of the great scholars of tassawwuf, said that “Our tareeqah is fixed in the Book and Sunnah.” It’s clear.
Sometimes the people of tassawwuf are not given respect. It is said that, “All sufis are bid’ah (innovators). They are lost.” A`uthoo billah (I seek refuge in Allah). Fear Allah (swt); you have to know who you’re talking about and what they are teaching. If it’s coming from the Book and the Sunnah the only thing you can do is shut your mouth. One time I was giving a lecture and I said, “Imam Ghazzali said…” and someone exclaimed, “Astaghfir Allah (seek forgiveness from Allah)!” I guess he must have done something wrong since he was saying astagfir Allah.
Let’s go back to Surat al-Fatiha. Now you have to pay attention and think like you know Arabic grammar really well. You have to think as if you understand Arabic, and I’ll try and help you. Insha’ Allah (God willing) you will catch it. This is really amazing.
Go to Surat al-Fatiha. In Arabic, as in English, we have different tenses like first person, second person, third person etc. We find that Surat al-Fatiha begins in the third person. Why? Because maybe someone says, “Internally I’m suffering. Internally I feel screwed up. So what’s the first step I should take? What’s the first step to take in tazkiyyah to get closer to Allah (swt) and give my heart to Allah (swt)?” We find it in al-Fatiha. Allah (swt) begins, “All praise and thanks are due to Allah alone, the Rabb of everything that exists.” This is third person, as are the next two verses.
Suddenly the tense changes. This is the beauty of Arabic. It goes from third person to first person in the fifth verse. But why? You can also do this in English grammar, we have something similar to it to bring about the same effect, but most people would jump on you for doing it.
When the tense changes you are talking directly to Allah (swt). “It is You we worship and You we ask for help,” (Qur’an 1:5). No more third person, now it’s you and Allah (swt). The first person continues to the end of the Surat, and the Surat became a du`a’ (direct supplication). Why?
If you go to the tafsir of ibn Kathir he tells you. He mentions that when you begin this Surat you want to get closer to Allah (swt). You are at siratul mustaqeem (the straight path) but it is surrounded by distractions like the club, girls or guys, sheesha bars, etc. But you want to get to Allah (swt).
Now, when you read Surat al-Fatiha, you find something that subhan’Allah is very nice. We believe that tawheed (the Oneness of Allah swt) has three aspects:
- Allah is the only One who is worshipped.
- Allah has names and attributes which are above His creation, not like His creation. Also, Allah’s actions are above the actions of His creation.
- Allah has the power to do everything He wants. Whether good or bad happens to us it’s from Allah.
Now look at Surat al-Fatiha. The second verse shows Allah’s Power and Lordship; the third His names and attributes; and the fourth shows His actions, because nobody can judge as Allah can judge.
Ibn Kathir said that when you say, “Alhamdullilahi rabil alameen (all praise to Allah, the Lord of the worlds),” you take a step closer to Allah (swt). When you say, “Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem (The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful),” you take another step. Why? Because first you approached Allah (swt) by His Lordship and then by His names and attributes. Allah (swt) said that to Him belongs the most beautiful names, so invoke Him by those names (Qur’an, 7:180). If you don’t know Arabic you can say, “Oh the One who provides, provide for me. Oh the One who is the source of guidance, guide me.”
Incidentally, some people say that the name Ar-Rahman is actually the name of Allah. Why? Because He didn’t say “Allah taught the Qur’an, created man, taught him eloquence.” He started the Surat by saying “Ar-Rahman (the Most Merciful) taught the Qur’an, created man, taught him eloquence […]” (Qur’an 55:1-3). Also in Surat Ta-Ha Allah (swt) says, “The Most Merciful [who is] above the Throne established,” (Qur’an 20:5). For this reason some ‘ulema say that the name Ar-Rahman is a synonym for the name Allah, not one of His attributes. Allah knows best.
So, when we read Surat al-Fatiha we get a step closer to Allah (swt) with each verse because we have approached Allah (swt) through tawheed: His Lordship (Qur’an 1:2), His Attributes (Qur’an 1:3), and His Actions (Qur’an 1:4). After this the tense switches to first person and becomes a du’a (Qur’an 1:5). It is as if, with the first three steps, we are now close enough that we can ask Allah (swt) directly. Did you catch the beauty of the Qur’an? It’s very subtle. It’s like the key to a door. The key to get close to Allah is at-tawheed, His Oneness. That’s why for any action to be accepted we say that someone has to be Muslim, because the key is to acknowledge Allah’s Unity. This is the beauty of al-Fatiha.
That’s why if you understand Arabic very well when you read the Qur’an you should pay attention and you will catch these assrar, these nice subtle points. One more beautiful thing: after you say, “It is You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help,” then the door of du`a’ is open to you. Why? Because right after that we ask, “Guide us to the straight path,” (Qur’an 1:5-6)
Thus, we learn how to make du`a’ in Surat al-Fatiha. I know how it is sometimes when we make du`a’. Like when we have finals and after juma’ah (Friday prayer) we’re praying, “Oh Allah, give me an A!” or you want to get married and you just say, “Please!” You shouldn’t do that. You should begin by praising Allah (swt), and then calling Him by His Names and Attributes. After you call on Him by His Names and Attributes you recognize what He does. Then after that you ask. That’s why if you look at the du`a’ of the Prophet ﷺ very carefully, like du`a’ of istikhara (asking good or guidance) or sayyid al-istighfar (asking forgiveness) you will find he always begins, “Allahuma anta raby, la illaha illa ant. Khalqatany wa ana abduk. Wa ana ‘ala ‘ahdik wa wa’dika mastat’at. O Allah, You are my Lord, there is none worthy of worship but You. You created me and I am your servant. I keep Your contract and my pledge to You so far as I am able.”
“Oh Allah you are my Lord” is the same as “All praise and thanks is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds” in Surat al-Fatiha.
“There is no god but You” is similar to “It is You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help.”
“You created me” again illustrates rububiya (Lordship).
“And I am Your servant” is also similar to “It is You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help.”
“I keep Your contract and my pledge to You…” What’s the contract that we have with Allah? La illaha illa Allah. There is no god but Allah. This is the contract.
“…so far as I am able.” Subhan’ Allah I’m doing my best. I’m making mistakes, but I’m trying.
Then, after the Prophet ﷺ acknowledged Allah (swt), he made du`a’.
Now, Surah al-Fatiha has shown us that the first step to tazkiyyah is to approach Allah (swt) through His Oneness and Unity. That’s why before anyone becomes a Muslim they have to say, “La illaha illa Allah (There is no God but Allah).” It’s the same when someone wants to get close to Allah (swt). They get close to Him by acknowledging who He really is.